In my last column I approached the impending trade deadline (February 27th) as if the Rangers would be buyers. Given their fortunes since, and taking the position that recent comments by General Manager Glen Sather to the New York Post are indeed trustworthy, then it is perhaps not so far out of the question that the team will indeed be looking to sell players this year. It’s not too much a leap of faith when you consider that they had the opportunity last year to go for broke, and instead elected only to make a couple of minor moves (sending Ville Nieminen to San Jose and acquire Sandis Ozolinsh from Anaheim), and then made targeted moves in the off-season that appeared to address gaps in the organization.
Unfortunately for all concerned the moves didn’t move out. Brendan Shanahan has certainly been a valuable contributor to the team, but Aaron Ward’s initial positive influence has waned as the season progressed, Matt Cullen was unable to meet the lofty expectations of becoming a second line center, let alone matching his career best totals of last season, and the Dominic Moore for Adam Hall trade has not appeared as good as it looked on paper.
Anyway, all that aside, the Rangers are indeed in the position to be sellers in the next couple of weeks and there are several players who may draw some interest.
The Blue Chips
Perhaps the most valuable trading chip will be one of those free agents that the Rangers signed this summer, Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan has shown to many that last year’s 40 goals weren’t a fluke. Despite his recent struggles scoring, he remains a valuable commodity for a team that is heading to the playoffs and needs some scoring depth. His salary of $4M is a little on the high side, but when you pro-rate it out, you’re probably looking at a cap hit in the $1M-$1.5M range. For a team to acquire him, it may take some salary moving back the other way, something the Rangers might do for the right player and package of prospects and picks. Shanahan’s value to the team becomes less and less with each point they drop out of the playoff race, so a move would be beneficial for the team’s future. It’s uncertain whether Shanahan and his agent (or the Rangers for that matter) have any intentions of returning to New York next year, but a trade might affect that decision.
Another player who is sure to garner interest is Michael Nylander. Also a UFA at the end of the season, his salary cap will be less than $1M for the remainder of the season, and with a demand for centers around the league, combined with projected career highs this season his value may never be higher. The drawback to trading Nylander is the effect it might have on Jaromir Jagr goin forward. Jagr has survived one purge already, so the concern may be overstated, but if the Rangers are looking to keep him happy they probably are (as has been reported) interested in bringing him back for another contract with the team. The return you might expect would seemingly be higher than the 2nd and 4th round picks plus Jamie Lundmark, that the Kings received in exchange for Craig Conroy.
Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka will no doubt draw some interest too, but it seems unlikely that the team would trade either at this point, if for no other reason than they would be hard pressed to replace their production at the salary cap cost they’re currently paying. Both players are signed for next year at a cap value of just $8.2M combined.Rumors have abounded that Petr Prucha could be on the block for the Rangers. After a 30 goal rookie season, Prucha hasn’t been able to find his scoring touch this year, nor the energy level that made him a fan favorite. Granted, Prucha missed out on the power play time opposite Jaromir Jagr (15 PP goals last year), but that hasn’t quietened the rumors. As one of the few younger home-grown players on the roster, there are many who would not like to see him traded. If he was moved, it would likely be for a similarly placed young prospect from another organization that perhaps fits the Rangers needs better. This type of trade doesn’t necessarily need to be done now (or at all), so it may be unlikely that Prucha gets moved by the deadline.
Could Fedor Tyutin be moved? His name has surfaced in some recent rumors, and the Rangers will no doubt listen to offers. But the likelihood that the team would move him at this point of his career (he’s only 23) seem to be remote, unless the deal is weighted towards the Rangers. The return for a player like Tyutin would seemingly have to be a young player of at least equal value.
Chances of them moving Henrik Lundqvist would appear to be zero at this stage.
The Second Tier
Defensemen are another position in demand in the current NHL and offensive-minded defensemen always seem to attract more value than they’re apparently worth. Karel Rachunek may very well fall into that category, especially given his increased ice time and non wholly unrelated increase in production since Marek Malik got hurt. Rachunek is a bit of a risky proposition on the blueline, but with a steady partner, and a low cap hit (around $500-600K) he may garner some interest from around the league. Perhaps a 2nd round pick or a prospect/player of equivalent value may not be out of question for a guy who is not well liked by the New York fans, and who was likely going to be somewhere else next Summer anyway.
Another defenseman who may draw interest is Aaron Ward. Ward still has another year at $2.75M on his contract and would cost a team about $700-900K in cap hit for the remainder of the season, which are both steep prices for a second tier defensemen. But Ward does have the Stanley Cup pedigree, winning with both the Hurricanes and Red Wings. The price may not be high for Ward, given his age and contract status, but there may be some interest from teams looking for depth on defense.
Could Marek Malik or Michal Rozsival also draw interest? Both are signed for next season, at fairly affordable salaries ($2.3M and $2.5M respectively) when you consider how much ice time they play for the Rangers. Neither particularly stands out though, and this may limit the enquiries to some extent, and one wonders whether it may be more financially prudent for the Rangers to keep them around for the next year. If they were to be moved, then the expectation would likely be a package of players and prospects with limited upside potential…think in the 3rd to 4th round pick range with perhaps a 2nd rounder in the case of Rozsival. The Rangers are also likely to want to continue to have a veteran presence on the blueline, and with the expectation that Kasparaitis, Rachunek and Ozolinsh will be gone, and possibly also Pock, they will be looking to hold onto at least a couple of these players.
A player who seems likely to be moved is Matt Cullen. Cullen has struggled somewhat in New York, being used as a second line center and wing for the most part, something he clearly hasn’t been able to provide for the team. His $2.5M salary and remaining three years on his contract appear to make it unlikely that a team will be willing to take him on without sending some significant salary back the other way.
Another player who is almost certain to be staying is the recently acquired Sean Avery. The Rangers moved three players to acquire him and there would seem to be no reason they’d part with him except in return for a top-line player or prospect…something that you wouldn’t expect to be offered up at this stage.
The Lesser Lights
New York recently resigned Blair Betts to a two year extension, and it is unlikely the checking forward would draw as much value in a trade return as he currently provides to the Rangers for a salary of just $650K. By contrast Ryan Hollweg may actually draw some queries from teams who are looking to add a little grit for the run to the playoffs. With the addition of Avery, along with the lack of offensive production this year, the Rangers might consider moving him if the return is there. Another fourth liner Colton Orr would seem to be among the least likely to move. Orr has struggled to maintain a spot in the line-up, and is likely to have little to no trade value unless included in a package.
Marcel Hossa is set to become an RFA this summer, but the Rangers continue to give him opportunities in the line-up. To his credit he’s worked on his defensive game and improved there, but the offense continues to remain elusive. Whether Hossa would even attract any sort of interest at this point is debatable, and if the Rangers do indeed sell, they will likely want to use the remaining time to try and see if he can get his game going before deciding on whether to qualify him. Adam Hall is another player in a similar position, though perhaps there is still someone out there who is willing to bring him for his play on the power play. Hall will also be an RFA this summer and the Rangers may want to take a longer look at him for the remainder of the season if they make some other moves.
The market for goaltenders is relatively weak at the moment with several better options out there. This may mean that the Rangers will not find a market for Kevin Weekes and will retain him through the end of his contract this season. Weekes is likely to cost a team around $600K of salary cap for the remainder ofseason and together with his limited playing time/success this year, may limit the interest. A mid to late round pick, player or prospect would be the only likely return if a deal was made.
With Thomas Pock becoming a UFA this summer, there may be some interest within the organization (and outside) to move him. Pock will not have played the requisite number of NHL games prior to the end of the season for the Rangers to retain his rights, and at $200K or less of cap hit, he might interest a team looking for a little depth and offensive talent on the blueline. His limited NHL experience and sometimes haphazard decision making will likely limit his value, but if the Rangers decide to move him rather than attempt to re-sign him, he may bring back a mid-level prospect or pick.
Another inexperienced defenseman on the blueline is Dan Girardi. Girardi has made a big impression since joining the pro ranks as a UFA, and the Rangers would probably be reluctant to move him unless the return was substantial. Girardi looks to have a bright future on the Rangers blueline, but if a team was to ask for him in return for a younger top line forward or defenseman it would seem unlikely the team would pass. Given the timing though (and the Rangers assumed status as sellers), it would appear unlikely that the team would be asked about him, nor be interested in parting with him for the types of returns you’re likely to get at this time of year.
Brad Isbister cost the Rangers a 4th round pick and a prospect to join the Rangers, whether they could actually get that much in return for him now is probably debatable. The team will certainly listen to offers, or they may consider using him as a body to fill out the roster for the remainder of the season.Acquired off waivers, Jason Krog appears destined to remain a Ranger for the remainder of the season. If the team goes ahead and sells several of their veterans off, then Krog might be kept around as a veteran influence, perhaps even making a play for a contract next season after becoming a UFA this summer.
Down on the Farm
There are a number of prospects the Rangers could include in packages, that have not really produced to date. Foremost among them are likely to be Hugh Jessiman, Bruce Graham, Zdenek Bahensky, Roman Psurny and Lee Falardeau. Of course there are many prospects that Rangers would probably have little concern moving in the right deal, including several that once had higher expectations like David Liffiton, Lauri Korpikoski, Michael Sauer and Billy Ryan. That said, the Rangers in recent years have shown a reluctance to part with prospects who they feel have high upsides. It’s also unlikely that they’ll move much in the way of prospects as the trade deadline nears and their position as sellers is confirmed. For the most parts these types of trade are done closer to the draft and/or parts of larger packages.
No doubt the Rangers would love to be able to move the likes of Sandis Ozolinsh and Darius Kasparaitis, but the chances appear to be remote on both. Ozolinsh has failed to come close to recapturing his form on Broadway, and his performances this year have done little to assuage the doubts. He’s expected to be healthy again soon, but appears to be destined to head to Hartford, with perhaps his only reprieve coming if the Rangers feel they need an extra body to fill out the roster for the remainder of the season.
The chances of Kasparaitis being traded are likewise limited, especially when you consider that he has to pass back through re-entry waivers to play in the NHL. The Rangers surely don’t want to be stuck with $1.5M of wasted cap space next year, so those most logical conclusion is that Kasparaitis will be bought out for a $500K cap hit for each of the next two seasons.
In summary there appears to be two or three serious moves the Rangers could make at the deadline, with perhaps a handful of other lesser moves also possible. A purge on the scale of the 2004 trading deadline seems unlikely, but the position of the Rangers as one of the few sellers may off-set the salary cap effect enough this time round to return some reasonable results.